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Western Sensibility Pushes Digital Textile Printing To Its Maximum Creative Potential

Kathryn Sanders, Founder & CEO of Western Sensibility, joins us this week to discuss the textile company’s latest collection. A third-generation textile printer with a penchant for technology, Sanders is introducing traditional artists to the digital textile print medium to create unique and sustainable products.

Raymond Paul Schneider: When did you first start to develop this new collection?
Kathryn Sanders: At Western Sensibility, we’re always in the process of developing new collections in collaboration with contemporary artists. Over time, we’ve created a fluid rhythm that puts our studio in a more supporting role and lets the artist’s vision guide the outcome, which we believe is how it should be. In preparation for our studio’s launch last November, we started collaborating with artists in the summer. As you can imagine, some collaborations take longer than others to come to fruition. We strongly believe in building collections organically and not rushing each artist’s unique process.

RPS: What was the overall timeline from conception to achieving the final design?
KS: Typically, new collections take anywhere from three to twelve weeks to produce. This is their first time creating in the digital textile print medium for most artists we work with. It’s our honor to translate their work onto textiles and illustrate a new way for visual expression – that just so happens to include functionality. Watching an artist experience their work on textiles for the first time is truly the highlight of the job. We go through a rigorous R&D process to get their work exactly as they want it, from color to textile and product form. I see a physical change as the lightbulb goes off and the wheels start turning.

RPS: What was your initial inspiration, and where did the idea(s) come from?
KS: Western Sensibility was born out of a strong desire and passion for introducing digital textile printing technology to artists as an artistic medium. Having spent years in textile development and digital print studios, I fell in love with the technology because it unlocked a new toolkit for artists and designers while also being the most sustainable way to print textiles – and we can do it in the USA! Our studio is rooted in the principle to put art first, which is (maddeningly) not the norm in the printing world. Having our studio in Montana, we can’t help but be moved by the mountains and forests surrounding us, which lends itself to our broader source of inspiration – the American west.

RPS: Please describe your overall creative and design process.
KS: When working with artists, we start with a discovery phase. It’s important that we deliberately and diligently introduce our collaborators to our process, what it means, and why we do it. We show them how we can push our technology and how they can design into our process. We want them to thoroughly assess – without pressure – whether collaborating with Western Sensibility is the right fit for their art.

Next, we start the R&D phase and print several artworks (varying in style, composition, or process) onto all of the textiles in our textile collection. At this point, I always encourage the artists to sit with these samples for a week or so and marinate on what they’re drawn to and what they may not like as much. It’s paramount that the artists get an aerial view of the medium as possible and see how their work exists on different textile constructions and ground colors.

After that, we start merchandising their product line based on the textiles they want to work with – some artists work with our entire textile collection while others just choose a few. Either way, we’re dedicated to their vision. We meticulously go through each product iteration with the artist to ensure placement prints, repeats, and compositions best showcase their work. Once approved, we’re ready to go into production.

RPS: Did you have a specific audience or theme that you had in mind?
KS: As a studio in constant product development with a multitude of artists with wildly different practices, it’s easy to argue that there’s something for everyone. When we look at our goals as a brand, we’re typically trying to engage creative individuals who want their homes to reflect their most authentic selves, eco-minded customers that vote with their dollars, and customers looking for high-quality performance fabrics (cue our life-friendly technology) that stand up to the demands of everyday life.

RPS: Please describe the methods, tools, and materials you used to develop and prototype this design?
KS: On the software side, we utilize special rip software to run our digital textile printers and work in Photoshop when designing and merchandising. Because textiles are tactile, we know how valuable it is for artists to touch and feel the fabric. That’s why physical samples are so integral to our R&D process. I’ve spent years engineering our textile collection and am beyond proud to get these durable, luxurious upholstery fabrics into the hands of our artists and customers alike.

RPS: Describe your overall brand DNA and Ethos
KS: Art driven and experimental by nature, at Western Sensibility, we’re on a mission to redefine interior spaces by creating functional art for your home. We exist to illustrate a new type of textile printing studio that blends art, sustainability, and textile technology while drawing inspiration from the American West.

Photography by Rio Chantel.

Click here to see more of our “Anatomy of a Design” series.

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